Myths

The Bellybutton of Aphrodite

Main piece: Tortellini are probably the most famous and important dish from the Emilia-Romagna. They are basically small balls of meat wrapped up in pasta and then dipped in a chicken broth, and they also happen to look like bellybuttons. They are so delicious and iconic that they even have an origin story. Locals say that the goddess Aphrodite went to visit Bologna once. She went in disguise, so no one knew she was a goddess, but she was still beautiful as hell, so they treated her like a queen. They pampered her all they could and the one thing that she ended up liking the most about Bologna, like most people was the food. She stayed there eating for so long that she gained a few kilos, which would have usually enraged her but was so enchanted with the food that she could not get angry at the Bolognese. When it was time for her to leave, she wanted to leave them a present of gratitude, and since she wanted to loose weight from her stomach she gave them her bellybutton, which was the first Tortellini. If you ask anyone in any restaurant in Bologna they will tell you that’s how they were invented.

Background information about the piece by the informant: Ersilia was raised in Bologna, Italy, the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region. She is a food enthusiast and has an interest for folk stories. She learned this story first from her dad and claims that everyone in Bologna knows the story.

Context of the performance: I asked Ersilia if she knew of any stories about the folkloric local food from Italy. According to her, this story is popular in Bologna and most people will say that Tortellini come from the bellybutton of Aphrodite, even if there are variations to the story form person to person.

Thoughts on the piece: This story elevates the dish to mythological proportions. It is always a mystery how traditional dishes were created, since they cannot be traced back to a single author, so giving an origin to the Tortellini involved with divine intervention shows the value that the Bolognese give to their food. They treat it as a cornerstone of their culture, to the extent in which a single dish has a mythology behind it.

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